NEW YORK (AP) -- Instead of taking part in the country's largest Veterans Day parade Sunday, some New York City vets were still coming to terms with Superstorm Sandy. Already homeless before the storm, they faced a third week of being uprooted from their usual shelter with little more than the clothes on their backs.
"I have not had a change of clothing since we were displaced," said Matthew Galarza, a 23-year-old Army veteran who was evacuated from his transitional housing with more than 100 other veterans for the Oct. 29 storm. Thinking it would be temporary, he left with nothing but his video games.
At first, the veterans stayed in a Brooklyn shelter that usually caters to the homeless at large. They saw feces stains on the floor and struggled to sleep under bright lights. More recently, they were transferred to a space in Brooklyn that is being considered as a traditional homeless shelter, though the idea has drawn protests from the nearby upscale community of Carroll Gardens.
"We have 11 men in our living unit right now," said John Cody, a 32-year-old Navy veteran. "Six in the living room, two in the dining room and three in the master bedroom." There is no privacy, he said, and no hot water.
With little to do in their cramped new space, a few took the chance on Veterans Day weekend to join relief efforts for storm victims in the hard-hit Red Hood neighborhood a short walk away.
"It felt right," Cody said.
Asked if he would march in the Veterans Day parade, Cody said no. "That's not my scene."
The city has 535 homeless veterans and roughly 820 more in transitional housing, according to the Veterans Administration. More than 2,100 are in housing with the help of supportive housing vouchers.
At Sunday's parade, officials stood in the warm sunshine and said veterans should be honored and remembered more than just one day a year. The greatest casualty, one speaker said, is being forgotten.
"This nation has a sacred obligation to take care of you," U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter told the crowd.
Several officials also made a special note of mentioning Vietnam veterans. This marks the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.
One Vietnam veteran, 66-year-old Laurence Lynch of New York, said simply, "It's about time. It's about time."
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Veterans Day "has always been a proud day in New York City, but this year, I hope vets feel even prouder." He said the response of the armed services to Sandy "has just been incredible."
"I guess it's no surprise," Bloomberg said. "From the shores of Staten Island to the beaches of Normandy, our armed services have always been there when we needed them the most."
Along a number of blocks of the parade route on Fifth Avenue, just a few dozen spectators were lined along the barricades.
Candice and Jeffrey Stark stood nearly alone on one stretch, waving tiny American flags. When asked, "Where is everybody?" they said they were wondering the same thing.
"We are shocked," Candice Stark said. "Very disappointed and terribly appalled. Don't get me started!"
The Long Island couple are among the many Sandy victims displaced from the storm. They had noticed the parade barricades being set up while staying in Manhattan and told themselves, "We've gotta be there."
The military has been very visible in the Sandy cleanup, the couple said. They wanted to say thank you.
On Sunday alone, hundreds of veterans were working on storm relief in the beachside Rockaways section of the city, according to Team Rubicon, a veterans emergency response group.